The Most Reverend Robert Mary Clement, Archbishop of North America of the original American Catholic Church and the original Eucharistic Catholic Church; founder of The Church of the Beloved Disciple in Manhattan (1968-1986), the first major urban apostolic and sacramental work for the LGBT community in New York; and the co-creator of the term “Holy Union” who celebrated the first “Holy Union” at the Church of the Beloved Disciple in July, 1970.
First mass at Church of the Beloved Disciple on July 19, 1970 at the Church of the Holy Apostles (28th Street & Ninth Avenue) in New York City Robert Clement was born on March 12, 1925 in Lee Park, Pennsylvania, of Roman Catholic and Episcopalian parents. In college he became aware of the Old Catholic movement and felt comfortable with it as a way to study and prepare for the priesthood.
Archbishop William Henry Francis Brothers ordained him as a priest in the Old Catholic Church of America on August 8, 1948. As a result of intercommunion, two years later he was transferred to The Old Roman Catholic Church under the jurisdiction of Archbishop Richard Arthur Marchenna (1911-1982). For internal reasons he was conditionally re-ordained on November 1, 1950. Clement was a Bishop-Elect under Marchenna in 1958. He was at that time the Vicar General and was elected to be Co-Adjutor to Archbishop Marchenna.
John Noble (left) and Fr. Robert Clement (carrying sign) in first New York City gay parade, June 1970. Recognizing a different call within the priesthood, Clement was accepted into The Polish National Catholic Church. Again, in order to regularize the standing of his priesthood, he was conditionally ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Thaddeus F. Zielinski on June 22, 1959 in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. In August 1959, Fr. Clement met his life-companion John Darcy Noble while in London. Their relationship lasted 44 years until Bishop Noble’s death on September 21, 2003.
Fr. Clement served as a parish priest in New Jersey and New York City for the Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC) for approximately ten years. He left the PNCC in 1968 since the PNCC had no interest at that time in a primarily English-speaking parish in New York City. Consequently Fr. Clement founded an independent work called the American Orthodox Church of the United States (Western Orthodox), based upon an apostolic and sacramental system for which he became the Curial Administrator. This was in response to Fr. Clement’s strong desire to do an open and public outreach to the LGBT community. In 1968, Fr. Clement and friends founded the initial work of The Church of the Beloved Disciple which primarily served the New York LGBT community.
Robert Clement and John Noble at their holy union at the Performing Garage Theatre in 1970. Officiated by the Rev. Troy Perry. After the Stonewall uprising, Fr. Clement heeded its clarion call to action, and in New York City's first Gay Parade, he marched as the only openly-gay priest and in collar carrying the banner “Gay People This Is Your Church,” while his life-companion John Darcy Noble passed out fliers inviting people to attend “The Church of the Beloved Disciple.” Over 800 people attended the following Mass at the church at 9th Avenue and 28th Street.
In essence, Clement had inherited the work of the 1946 Eucharistic Catholic Church. So much so that, in 1972, Bishop George Hyde legally transferred to Clement the official incorporation papers of the original American Catholic Church (founded by Archbishop Vilatte in 1915) . Beloved Disciple now functioned under it as the incorporated American Catholic Church. Two years later, Bishop Hyde also authorized Bishop Clement to continue the mission of the Eucharistic Catholic Church at Beloved Disciple.
Second home of Church of the Beloved Disciple at the First Moravian Church, 154 Lexington Avenue at 30th Street. November, 1972. The year 1974 was a high mark in Clement’s work and life, as Archbishop Richard A. Marchenna consecrated him as a Bishop on October 6, 1974, assisted by Bishop Martin Luther Williams. This event was televised in New York City and received national attention as the first openly gay bishop’s consecration. Clement and Noble also coined the term “Holy Union” and Clement was the first to publicly perform Holy Unions in July, 1970. Bishop Clement was a lightning-rod for the news media whenever they wanted a quote concerning the naturalness of gay and lesbian people.
In 1986, Bishops Clement and Noble wanted to retire from the fray of New York, so Fr. Philip Vasianto became the rector of Beloved Disciple in NYC. When Fr. Philip soon thereafter died of AIDS, Bishops Clement & Noble were living in southern California and too far away to return to oversee The Church of the Beloved Disciple.
Bishops Albert J. Berube, Ralph Marchenna, and Martin Luther Williams (standing center from left to right) consecrating Robert M. Clement as bishop. October 6, 1974. In California, Bishop Clement made ecumenical relations with other independent Catholic jurisdictions and work, while his personal time was occupied by caring for a gay godson Tim who had AIDS, and in caring for Bishop John who had diabetes. Following said intercommunion on October 24, 1993 Archbishop Marcario Ga, Obispo Maximo of the Philippine Independent Catholic Church recognized Archbishop Clement’s ecclesial standing and sub-conditione consecrated him as the regional Bishop of San Diego. Archbishop Ga was assisted by Bishop Robert Halliwell II and Bishop David Riggs at St. Andrew Church in Los Alamitos. After Ga’s death, the PICC took a different direction and other fractions assumed all functions.
Bishops Albert J. Berube, Ralph Marchenna, and Martin Luther Williams (standing center from left to right) consecrating Robert M. Clement as bishop. October 6, 1974. During the San Diego years, Clement underwent deep introspection and began to reassess his understanding of his calling and service, and the meaning of Jesus’ words. His readings expanded to the Jesus Seminars, the Historical Jesus, and he became aware of the historical Celtic Church--within which he found similarities to the philosophies of Buddhism and Sufism. He had an epiphany in realizing that since he had been a leader in LGBT human rights and since many churches now embraced his lead; it was now time to present a new vision of spirituality and the church. Clement saw in the Celtic church that it was free of the Augustinian concepts of sin, guilt and punishment, and how the Celtic church expressed in greater depth many of the spiritual concepts of The Church of the Beloved Disciple.
Bishops Robert Clement and Adrian Ravarour celebrating Celtic Mass in chapel of the American Catholic Church in Los Angeles. After Bishop John’s death (2003), Archbishop Clement carried the work of the American Catholic Church to Los Angeles. He has been active in intercommunion with numerous independent Catholic parishes; active as a member of the Interfaith LGBT Clergy Association; and established the Archbishop John Darcy Noble Center--a center for spiritual studies where individual spiritual growth is a goal. Clement’s interest in the Celtic Church is paramount, as are studies of the Aramaic Jesus, the Historical Jesus, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Nag Hammadi, and Buddhist and Sufi writings. He has been assisted in his Los Angeles service by Fr. Adrian R. Ravarour, whom he consecrated as a bishop on September 17, 2006, assisted by Archbishop Mark S. Shirilau.
The Most Reverend Robert Mary Clement retired as the Archbishop of the American Catholic Church after being a bishop for 45 years, October 6, 1974-August 25, 2019. He is now 94 years old, and beginning a new phase in his life after a lifetime of serving the LGBTQ community.
Bishop Thomas Fehevary (left) ordaining Leo Joseph (kneeling left) and John Darcy Noble as priests with Robert Clement assisting. April 20, 1974 in Montreal. Bishops John Darcy Noble and Robert M. Clement serving Holy Communion at Church of the Beloved Disciple in 1982.
Bishop Robert M. Clement on day consecrated as bishop–his enthronement. Bishops Robert Halliwell II and Marcario Ga (Philippine Independent Catholic Church) consecrate Robert M. Clement as regional bishop of San Diego. At St. Andrew Church in Los Alamitos, October 24, 1993.
Robert Clement and Adrian Ravarour with Rev. Neil Thomas (left) and Rev. Pat Langlois (right) of MCC Los Angeles at West Hollywood Pride Parade in 2006. Robert Clement appearing with LGBTQI Interfaith Clergy Group at West Hollywood Pride Parade in 2007.
Bishops Robert M. Clement and Mark Shirilau consecrating Adrian Ravarour as bishop at the American Catholic Church in Los Angeles. September 17, 2006. Bishop Robert M. Clement with interviewer Dr. J. Gordon Melton at American Catholic Church in Los Angeles. August 18, 2007.
(This biographical sketch provided by Robert Mary Clement and Adrian Ravarour.)
Biography Date: September, 2004; updated October 2019
“Rev. Robert Mary Clement | Oral History”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed September 27, 2023, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/oral-histories/robert-mary-clement.